Healthy Eating Strategies for Holiday Celebrations

Mary Hartley, RD, MPH, Director of Nutrition at Calorie Count has answered thousands of diet and nutrition questions from Calorie Count members. And that’s not counting the advice she has given countless others during her 30-year career as a professional dietitian. Mary provides accurate and wise diet advice in a no-nonsense way to address the physical and personal barriers to reaching and maintaining ideal weight.

Calorie Count Members find it challenging to maintain their new lifestyle changes during the holidays. Here are a few of our readers’ favorite “Ask Mary Q+As” about coping with holiday food.

Ask Mary: How do I handle eating at a party?

Handle all parties the same way. Don’t go to the party famished and don’t overdo the alcohol because both behaviors open the door to indiscriminate eating. Look over the entire table before joining the serving line. If you are eating a full meal, choose several items in reasonable portions to make up a balanced meal. Look for the vegetables and skip the foods that are breaded and fried or covered in sauce, cream, butter, or cheese. Leave the serving area to eat while seated where you can converse. At a cocktail party, choose only the offerings that you love the best. Take a small portion and think about how great you’ll look and feel at a healthy weight.

Ask Mary: How do I decline food as a guest?

You can refuse food without being rude. For people in your inner circle (vs. casual acquaintances), honesty is the best policy. At sometime other than at a meal, sit down with your loved ones and explain that you are working on weight or your pre-diabetes or whatever. It helps if you can say that your doctor advised you to avoid specific foods or behaviors. Explain that you don’t need “special food” because there’s nothing you can’t eat per se. And then at meal time, serve yourself a small portion or leave much of a large portion on your plate and pick around the refined carbohydrates and greasy food. For more casual acquaintances, skip the explanation and move directly into the strategy for light-eating. Your hosts shouldn’t be surprised because many people eat like that.

Ask Mary: How can I recover from a weekend of holiday binging?

To undo holiday indulgences, eat less and become more active. I’ll bet you’re not even hungry on the day after a holiday feast. Eat to your comfort level and choose vegetables, fruits, lean meats and fish, high-fiber grains, and water. There is no need to eat fewer than 1200 calories a day when you can burn off the extra calories with activity. Go for a long walk or to the gym, clean the house or shovel snow. Do whatever you call active fun. In a few days, you can return to your usual meal and activity patterns. Just never say, “I blew it” and throw in the towel.


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